A prolific filmmaker who directed almost sixty features in his career, sometimes as many as three or four a year from the late fifties to the early seventies, Yasuzo Masumura did not direct his first film until his early thirties having previously dropped out of university before winning a scholarship to study film in Italy and then working as an assistant director at the Daiei studio where he would later make his name.
It is two of these films which have now been presented on a single Blu-ray disc by Arrow Films, 1962’s Black Test Car (Kuro no tesuto kâ) and The Black Report (Kuro no hôkokusho) of the following year, sometimes translated as Black Statement Book, both of them stylish thrillers of duplicity, one a tale of industrial espionage set in the world of automobiles, the other a courtroom drama following the trial of a man accused of murdering a wealthy businessman.
The Black Test Car of the title is Tiger Motors’ prototype sports car, soon to be ready for the market but under threat even before launch from the rival Yamato company who may have a spy within the executive officers of Tiger Motors and are preparing their own vehicle whose specifications are suspiciously similar.
With the president of Tiger ill in hospital, assigned to investigate is Kimio Hiraki (Eiji Funakoshi) whose assistant Yutaka Asahina (Jirô Tamiya) has a girlfriend who works as a hostess at a bar frequented by a senior executive of the rival company; she reluctantly agrees to make advances, but even if the leak can be proven Hiraki will not have found the source or stopped it.
The Black Report is equally filled with suspects following the murder of Takanobu Kakimoto, president of Fujiyama Foods, struck from behind with a bronze flower vase whose red spider lilies now decorate the bloodstained floor; the body found by his son in the early hours of the morning, Fumio shed no tears, telling the police his father was “a money-mad womaniser.”
There is his second wife, Miyaki, whom Kakimoto had threatened to divorce, there is her lover, Juro Hitomi, a former employer of Fujiyama, there is Kakimoto’s own lover, his secretary Ayako Kataoka, and aside from jealousy there is the missing twenty three million Yen, an obvious motive for murder in the eyes of public prosecutor Kimio Hiraki (Funakoshi again) whose promotion and transfer to Tokyo depend on a successful conviction.
One set in smoky jazz bars, the other in the more elegant Kakimoto home and the courtroom where the family stand as witnesses or accused, there is much in common between Black Test Car and The Black Report, both of them told through the efforts of the men whose reputations and careers will be destroyed by failure, working in cramped offices filled with paper files, trying to make connections.
In flawless, rich moody monochrome, precisely framed by cinematographer Yoshihisa Nakagawa, each investigation unfolds into a tangled web of lies and motives, of bribery and embezzlement, the supposed honour of Japanese culture corrupted at every level, Masumura creating a bleak but compelling depiction of a country which has sold its soul for profit.